By Virginia Gay Hospital

How can the same ingredients, the same kitchen, and the same employees come together to make better food? Sara Wattnem credits Virginia Gay’s commitment to hiring her full-time. People at Virginia Gay are likely to credit Sara’s experience and her drive to make the hospital’s food better for everyone.

Sara is a clinical dietitian for Virginia Gay Hospital and was nominated for the All-Star award she will soon receive from the Kirkwood Community College’s Creative Corridor initiatives. Recipients of the award represent exceptional employees from diverse or non-traditional professional pathways who demonstrate that great careers exist for anyone. She was nominated for the award by Robin Martin, Virginia Gay Hospital Health Care Foundation director.

In the recommendation letters submitted on Sara’s behalf, she was credited with taking initiative and always having patient satisfaction as her goal.  Sara was characterized as being both accurate and competent in her roles as dietitian which include managing patients in the hospital and in the nursing home, caring for patients referred by their doctors for dietary management of illnesses, and improving food options for Virginia Gay’s staff.

“An important benchmark for me is how many staff members, who can choose to eat wherever they want, choose to eat at Virginia Gay,” explains Sara, “because if the number of meals we serve them is growing then we know we’re producing better food for everyone.”

Part of what makes Sara exceptional is her experience with all parts of the dietary department. She began working in food service when she was 14 years old and just old enough to work in the kitchen of a nursing home washing dishes. “I’ve been a dishwasher, a cook, and the supervisor of a kitchen,” says Sara. “Then I received a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Kaplan and one in dietetics from Kansas State University. After that I completed a 1,200 hour internship working directly under the supervision of a dietitian. All of those experiences, plus providing immediate feedback to our staff about the compliments or complaints we get, helps us improve more quickly.”

When she’s not in the kitchen or in her office preparing menus, Sara is often busy doing assessments of patients in VGH Nursing and Rehab or helping outpatients during her clinic hours.

Sara shares her thoughts about working at Virginia Gay by saying, “What I really like about Virginia Gay is that I get to provide such a wide variety of dietary services. When I worked at a large hospital there were dietitians for various floors. A dietitian might only interact with a cardiac floor, for example, and never get the opportunity to use all of their training. By contrast, when I get to work in the morning my first step is to review every in-patient’s status. Then I do the same for Nursing and Rehab where I pay special attention to their skin conditions, the meds they are prescribed, how much they’re eating, how their weight is changing and really just about every detail regarding their overall health. Later I may be involved in working with patients helping manage diabetes, weight, hypertension, or autoimmune disorders.“